Selected Article Excerpts:
- During an Army-wide stand down for suicide prevention sessions, a Christian chaplain in Texas improperly led rookie soldiers in a candlelight prayer, an Army instructor said in a formal complaint last week.Staff Sgt. Victoria Gettman, a lab technician instructor at Fort Sam Houston, told The Huffington Post that she was among 800 soldiers from the 264th Medical Battalion undergoing resilience training on Sept. 26. Almost all of the soldiers were fresh out of boot camp and in training for their first job in the Army.
- Gettman said the chaplain ordered the lights turned off and battery-operated candles passed around as the soldiers were told to bow their heads. “The entire theater was forced into a mass Christian prayer,” she said. “I heard him refer to his ‘Heavenly Father’ and ‘Lord.’”Among those “trapped” in the room, said Gettman, was a Buddhist student of hers. There were also at least two Jewish soldiers who voluntarily chose not to take off the day — it was Yom Kippur, the holiest day in the Jewish calendar — in order to attend what they were told was a mission-critical session on suicide prevention.
“This is one of the most jaw-dropping and blatant violations I’ve seen in a very long time,” said Army Sgt. Justin Griffith, military director of the private-sector group American Atheists. “In theory, the rule is you can make it religious or you can make it mandatory, but you can’t make it both.”
- Despite the Army’s explanation, advocates say the suicide prevention session-turned-prayer meeting — the latest in a string of alleged ethics violations involving Christian proselytizing within the ranks — didn’t offend Gettman alone.Mikey Weinstein, founder of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation — whose board members included one of the former Navy SEALs killed in the attack on the Libyan consulate — said that 38 service members at the base, including 11 who were in the room, have told him they are willing to sign a federal complaint against “this unconstitutional disaster.” Among that group are 24 Christians (Protestants and Roman Catholics), two Jews and 12 agnostics or atheists, according to Weinstein.
The chaplain, Weinstein argues, violated the First Amendment’s establishment clause and the related ban on religious tests. He contacted the Army to demand that the chaplain be disciplined and the Army make a written apology to the troops.